Under Siege 2: Dark Territory – celebrating 20 years of nobody beating him in the kitchen

tn_us2us2-20I know the internet reminds us that every day is the 20th anniversary of something or other, and that’s not always a good thing. There is too much nostalgia, and too many factoids. We need to learn how to live in the present, otherwise what the hell anniversary are we gonna celebrate 20 years from today? But today, my friends, is an important one: July 14th, 1995 was the day the world was gifted UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY.

I think you know how I feel about this movie. It stands as one of Seagal’s best big studio movies, one of the great sequels in the history of action, and one of the best DIE HARD rip offs. It’s a cool, accessible Seagal with a great supporting cast (especially the villains) doing enjoyable special-effects-based spectacle action while also spreading the gospel of choking and wrist-snapping. I’m not sure I can write a new review of it, since of course I wrote a whole chapter about it for my book Seagalogy: The Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and talked a little more about it in my Cinefamily Journal last year. So instead, to honor the occasion, let’s take a look at some of the key players and consider how much they’ve accomplished in the two decades since.


us2_murphyDirector Geoff Murphy was a strong choice to replace part 1’s Andrew Davis. He brought a solid action foundation that meshed well with the pioneering green screen work used to create the illusion of movement outside of the train. He also worked well with the actors. It’s easy to see another director shunning the sort of fun performance that Eric Bogosian gave as the villainous Travis Dane.

Unfortunately Murphy pretty much disavows the movie and his time in America. After making such legendary New Zealand films as GOODBYE PORK PIE, UTU and THE QUIET EARTH in the ’80s, he found he owed $90,000 in back taxes with little opportunity for New Zealand work to pay it off. “It was desperation,” he told one interviewer when describing the reason he came to Hollywood and made movies like YOUNG GUNS 2 and FREEJACK. “I had no choices. I didn’t want to make American films and don’t have much regard for what I made over there. My spirit wasn’t in it really.”

DARK TERRITORY was pretty much the climax and highlight of that, uh, dark territory of his career. He followed it up with some TV work and, five years later, FORTRESS 2, a reasonably fun part 2, but chintzy in comparison to this one. His widest seen work since then has been back in New Zealand doing second unit on the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, “shooting action scenes” according to the New Zealand Herald. He did the same for Lee Tamahori’s xXx: STATE OF THE UNION, another part 2 that’s fun but no DARK TERRITORY. Of that film Murphy said, “These people must despise the audience to put this kind of stuff out, they must think the audience is utterly stupid and I don’t believe they are”.

Now 76 and seemingly retired, Murphy gives very few fucks. Receiving an honorary degree from Massey University last summer he compared Peter Jackson to the Grinch (because he “stole the film industry off us”) and hoped Kiwi directors would come back to making movies specifically about New Zealand culture. To which I say, I bet you fucking anything Seagal would be into playing a Maori tracker or gangster. Give him a call.

For co-writer Richard Hatem, who was a guest at our Cinefamily event last summer and seemed like a really nice guy, the DARK TERRITORY spec script was IMDb credit #1. He followed it with THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES in 2002 before becoming a prolific television writer and producer (Miracles, Supernatural, The Dead Zone, Grimm, etc.) He co-created The Gates for ABC and most recently he’s been working on Witches of East End.

us2_reevesThe other credited writer, Matt Reeves, may be the top Class of Under Siege 2 achiever. Sure, his directorial debut, the Schwimmer/Paltrow joint THE PALLBEARER, didn’t get the best reviews. But then he went into TV, directed an episode of Homicide: Life On the Street and some other shows here and there, including one he co-created with J.J. Abrams (something called “Felicity“). His association with Abrams led him to directing CLOVERFIELD and the next thing you know he’s knocking the American remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN out of the park and then it’s the second great part 2 of his career, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. I’m honestly wondering why this isn’t the guy directing the new STAR WARS. He has some serious filmatistic chops and I think he would be the first to tell you that Steven Seagal taught him everything he needed to know to achieve all those things and untaught him everything he needed to not know as well as gave him relationship advice (details only on IMDbPro).

Of course, Brian Helgeland, who we learned from Richard Hatem was one of the uncredited script doctors who turned their original screenplay into a Steven Seagal/Casey Ryback movie, has done pretty well for himself. In 1997 he won the best adapted screenplay Oscar for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, widely known to have been a “makeup Oscar” to hide the Academy’s shame for not honoring DARK TERRITORY. Since then he’s written and directed many works in the badass realm, including Clint’s BLOOD WORK and Denzel’s MAN ON FIRE. My favorite thing by him is still 1999’s Richard Stark adaptation PAYBACK starring Mel Gibson. Most recently he directed LEGEND, the untitled movie with Tom Hardy playing the Krays.

The great composer Basil Pouledouris continued to compose for a wide variety of films up until his death in 2006. In my opinion DARK TERRITORY is one of his last scores that captures that triumphant sound I love from him, with the obvious exception of STARSHIP TROOPERS.


us2_heiglKatherine Heigl (sullen niece Sarah Ryback) was just 16 when she filmed DARK TERRITORY, which she chose to do instead of what became the Angelina Jolie role in HACKERS. In the late ’90s the former child actor starred in the sci-fi series Roswell, and starting in 2005 the hospital drama Grey’s Anatomy. TV stardom allowed her the opportunity to be a leading lady in romantic comedies like 27 DRESSES and THE UGLY TRUTH, as well as Judd Apatow’s KNOCKED UP, though an interview she gave about that movie created somewhat of a public backlash against her. She’s been labelled “difficult to work with” and is now playing a CIA agent on a show called State of Affairs, so obviously she learned a few things from Seagal.

My favorite post-UNDER SIEGE role by Heigl was as the female lead in the best CHILD’S PLAY sequel, BRIDE OF CHUCKY.

us2_bogosianThe M.V.P. and most unlikely name in the DARK TERRITORY cast is of course monologist Eric Bogosian (genius villain Travis Dane). Many who admire Bogosian for his plays, one man shows and novels would prefer to turn their noses up to a movie like this. A Backstage review of his 2002 show The Worst of Eric Bogosian began with the sentence “How do you critique the inherent evils of capitalist America after co-starring in the action blockbuster UNDER SIEGE II?,” as if the movie itself couldn’t serve a similar purpose. And in 2013 Grantland included Bogosian’s role on a smarmy list of “most blatant paycheck movies” along with Orson Welles in TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE.

But the Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellow does not seem embarrassed by his turn as one of the all time great Seagalogical villains (or possibly the greatest). In a 2007 interview with bullz-eye.com Bogosian said “I wanted to play…after I saw DIE HARD, and I saw Alan Rickman in DIE HARD, I really wanted to play a big, old fat villain in a big action movie, and I was very happy to be able to do that in UNDER SIEGE 2. In the long run, it turned out that what I was doing had nothing to do with what Alan Rickman did…or any other villain has done…but that was because the director, Geoff Murphy, really encouraged me to get silly with the role. And it really fit me really well.”

us2_chestnutMorris Chestnut (comic relief sidekick Bobby Zachs) has also gone on to a prolific career in film and television, starring in the BEST MAN movies and appearing on American Horror Story, Nurse Jackie and Legends. And as far as part 2s go, he was also in ANACONDAS: THE HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID. Our friend Franchise Fred Topel interviewed him last year and asked about DARK TERRITORY. Chestnut seemed to recall the experience with a weird fascination, and confirmed that his scenes were more based on what Seagal told him to do than on the frequently revised script:

“A lot of the stuff that we did on that movie was ‘Okay, this is what’s going to happen. You’re going to say this, I’m going to say this, then I’m going to do that and then you’re going to do that.’ The only time that really stuck to the script or had ad libs was the stuff when he really wasn’t there. It was a lot of stuff, because at that time I think he was flying a helicopter, he was doing something. So that’s what happened.”

Chestnut probly has the most embarrassing role in the movie, so it’s nice that 7 years later he was able to graduate to lead villain in (the unfortunately not as good) HALF PAST DEAD. Peter Greene (Mercenary #1) also worked with Seagal again in TICKER, as did Nick Mancuso (CIA sleaze Tom Breaker) in TODAY YOU DIE.

Everett McGill (menacing lead henchman Penn), who had already been known from SILVER BULLET, Twin Peaks and THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, among other things, has sadly gone off the radar in the years since. His last credits were THE STRAIGHT STORY and an episode of JAG in 1999. Maybe he was mad that George Clooney’s character in O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU had the same name as him.

Though we all knew him from ROBOCOP, RAMBO III and FORTRESS, Kurtwood Smith (General Stanley Cooper) took on a different type of identifiability – that of the sitcom dad – when he began That ’70s Show a few years after DARK TERRITORY.

us2_banksJonathan Banks, (mercenary Scotty), is a veteran character actor who suddenly got a much higher profile by appearing on Breaking Bad and now continuing onto its spinoff Better Call Saul. He was also on a season of Community and I guess he’s always been popping up in different action movies, but I actually notice him now (most recently in the Danny Trejo movie BULLET).

us2_newtonThe Newton MessagePad 2000, which Casey Ryback used to write his memoirs Ryback’s Tactics and to send a message to Admiral Bates, was discontinued in 1998 along with its final upgrade, the MP 2100. In 2009, CNET pitted an MP 2000 against its descendent, the iPhone 3GS, and found it superior in the areas of design, reliability, connectivity, and “Special Powers” (though not screen or apps). The comparison concludes, “The Newton may be old and dusty, but it still shows the young pretenders a thing or too [sic]. The iPhone is a superior device in many ways, we’ll admit, but when it comes to sheer innovation, the Apple Newton MessagePad is a true pioneer. Long live the king. ”

After DARK TERRITORY, Newtons appeared in such movies as RANSOM, PANDORA’S CLOCK, FEAR and THE LOVE BUG.

One of the locomotives in the film, GP7 1804, was still interested in action sequels, and made a memorable appearance in LETHAL WEAPON 4.


In 2002 she retired to Miami where she currently resides in the Gold Coast Railroad Museum. I have found conflicting reports about whether the other locomotive was No. 1812, 1810 or 1801. If it was one of the last two, it had been in RUNAWAY TRAIN. Most likely it is 1810 and resides in Kansas.


I’m not saying DARK TERRITORY is DIE HARD, but like DIE HARD it exceeds by combining the small with the huge. It has great, colorful characters, but also great spectacle. It’s in a confined space, but it has an epic feel. It is intimate…


But also not.


Every once in a while another story pops up about alleged plans or screenplays or discussion of an UNDER SIEGE 3. I don’t think it will or should happen. The days when studios would do these type of big expensive movies starring martial artists seem to have passed, and when they do bother to make a DIE HARD type movie (OLYMPUS DOWN, WHITE HOUSE HAS FALLEN, A DIE HARD TO GOOD DAY) starring a mere actor, there’s a good chance none of the action scenes will be visible to human eyes. Fortunately we still and forever have UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY, a two-decades old monument to the power of Seagal in a black coat on top of a moving train aiming a gun accompanied by a soaring Pouledoris theme. That’s just how it’s supposed to be done.

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31 Responses to “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory – celebrating 20 years of nobody beating him in the kitchen”

  1. I going to have to watch this one again, in honor of the anniversary. With all the sequels they are doing to older franchises can we please get a new Under Siege film?

  2. Man, that Bogosian screengrab makes me want to watch this fucker right now. Never be ashamed, sir. You were doing God’s work in that role.

    An old friend of mine who I’ve fallen out of touch with recently posted a pic of him and Bogosian, like, fly-fishing together or something. He’s a theater director so I assumed that they were working together in some capacity. Either way, I wanted to tell him not to trust that dude out in the woods all alone. Sumbitch is crazy.

  3. “Because sane people don’t make weapons like this!”

    I love this movie. And not just because I had my wisdom teeth taken out the day before it came out, and I was all hopped on pain killers.

    (That’s why I had to go back later in the week and see it a second time).

  4. Thanks so much for this write-up Vern, I really enjoyed it. So much to love in UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY. But one thing that really stands out, and you’ve touched on occasionally, is how much better Seagal is when humor is in the mix. He seems to be having a great time here just as he was in the original.

    What I’d really love is if some magical series of events could take place to enable you to host BLUNDER SIEGE: The Villains of the UNDER SIEGE films. Imagine you getting anecdotes out of Jones, Busey, Bogosian and all the rest in a roundtable.

  5. Thanks to Vern and the rest of you guys here in the outlawvern.com community I’ve really learned to appreciate this one. When I first saw it 20 years ago I thought it was alright. But just your average lesser sequel. Now? I think Bogosian is much better at the head villain job than Tommy Lee Jones in the first and I love Tommy Lee Jones in the first. Thanks to this write up I have yet another excuse to see it again. Then again there never should be any excuses needed to revisit UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY.

  6. Geoff Murphy almost directed Predator (Brought to LA for Conan III: http://www.murphyroy.com/film/filmmaker.html), but I think he should have directed… Willow. Willow was the first major fantasy production to film partly in New Zealand and a Kiwi director with an interesting filmography (that included some visual effects) it might have worked.

  7. I love this movie.

    I know part 1 is supposed to be the superior film, but I have a lot more fun with this one.

  8. That’s Maori, not Mauri – but yes, I can totally imagine Seagal accepting such a role. And being crucified for it in the NZ media.

    Be worth it for the behind the screnes footage of him telling Maori co-stars how to be properly Maori, a la teaching the cops to shoot in Steven Seagal: Lawman

  9. I recently saw Eric Bogosian speak at a book signing, and the host introduced him as “the only member of the Armenian Historical Society who has co-starred with Steven Seagal.”

    Bogosian smiled and replied, “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory.”

  10. The Original Paul

    July 14th, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    Well, I’m happy for Bogosian and sorry for Geoff Murphy. He has no clue how much entertainment he’s provided us with, has he?

    My fondest memories of this movie were playing a drinking game called “spot the phallic symbol” with a lot of extremely tipsy fellow college students one fun evening. This is how I spent my college years. It also explains why I’m not working a £200,000-per-annum job right now. Still totally worth it.


    Every once in a while another story pops up about alleged plans or screenplays or discussion of an UNDER SIEGE 3. I don’t think it will or should happen.

    Please tell this to the producers of DIE HARD, on behalf of world-weary movie fans everywhere.

  11. The Original Paul

    July 14th, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    And FTR, if any of you ever want to try that drinking game that I mentioned above, here are some suggestions to get you started: big black choppers, trains going in and out of tunnels, and Everett McGill’s head.

  12. I like the scene where one of the tech guys used the satellite to look at topless women on a beach, I’m sure 20 years later NSA guys do similar things.

  13. It also has the hot blonde from HOT SHOTS! PART DEUX whom Eric Begosian threatens to put a knifepoint to her eye and then unceremoniously throws off the train into a gorge in her underwear screaming.

  14. Glad that Vern has paid homage to this action classic, which is still my favorite Seagal film. It’s fun, breezy, and as Vern said, pretty accessible – i.e. it has big Hollywood summer movie production values and the violence isn’t as off-puttingly nasty as it was in the first one. Everything works here, from the humor to the acting to the surprisingly smart plot, and the final fight with McGill, though (unsurprisingly) one-sided, is still my favorite Seagal fight. His hand movements (Vogue-ing?) when McGill’s coming at him with the meat cleaver are head-scratchingly weird but also extremely badass.

    I think I heard Bogosian was a last-minute replacement for Jeff Goldblum, which makes sense and would have been fun to watch, but Bogosian is great here. Heigl’s actually pretty good too and I do think it’s too bad her career derailed (sorry) after the whole “biting the hand that feeds her” comments when she basically said the same stuff about Knocked Up that any Jezebel (or any other feminist website) online commenter would say about it today (ironically they’re usually the ones who love calling her an ice queen/bitch, etc…). I mean, her exact comments were – “it’s a little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. … I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy?” So basically she’s saying the EXACT same thing everyone praised white knight Joss Whedon for saying about Jurassic World this summer, but I guess Joss Whedon looks like a goofy fun-loving guy and Katherine Heigl looks like she’d be humorless and uptight so fuck her (correct) opinion I guess??

    Oh one last thing – I’ve seen this movie so many times as a kid I actually got bored one day and used a stop watch so I could time how much Seagal is in it (I think I heard someone say he’s barely in either Under Siege 1 or 2) – He’s only onscreen for about 20 minutes, believe it or not, but with all the rapid fire cutting between him, Chestnut, the terrorists, the hostages, and the Pentagon, you really have no idea how little he’s in the movie. That’s a great compliment to Murphy, who should be proud of directing one of the most consistently entertaining summer action movies around.

  15. neal2zod – Katherine Heigl made the mistake of saying those comments a few years before the feminism revival of the 2010s, if she had said that today there would have been a much less negative reaction.

    It’s honestly one of the things that bothers me about it, it’s obviously just a bandwagon people have jumped on, many of these same people probably didn’t give a shit about anything relating to feminism 5 years ago

  16. I watched a documentary on film editing and the editor of UNDER SIEGE 2 said that Seagal used to come in and tell him how to cut the action sequences. I am not surprised one bit. And nor should anyone be, but i was kinda weird to see UNDER SIEGE 2 being mentioned in a documentary that was really serious about the process of editing.

  17. Please do this for every movie you love right now Vern. We can all pretend it’s all of them’s 20th anniversary.

  18. The Original Paul

    July 17th, 2015 at 5:21 am

    Griff – I don’t think it’s fair to call it just a “bandwagon”. People’s attitudes change, they see something they think needs fixing, they do something about it. And more often than not they do so in groups. ‘Cause that’s the way human beings generally work.

    I don’t blame Heigl for making “feminist” comments before the revival, I blame her for basically criticising the movie that she’d very publicly accepted a role in, and been paid for. Look, if you want to criticise a movie, that’s fine. But don’t take a paycheque for your part in it first if you’re going to do that! I’d be more forgiving of her if she was saying the part had been re-written after she’d signed the contract, or something. But that doesn’t seem to be what she’s claiming, at least from the post above. I’d have to read her exact words to get a more accurate picture of what was said in context.

    But on the basis of what’s written above… she’s basically the Hollywood equivalent of the person who takes a job, leaves it, and publicly insults his or her previous employer in the press afterwards. I kinda admire her for saying what she did, and I 100% agree with her sentiments. But a high-profile actress criticising her own character in a movie that she agreed to beforehand and was paid to portray… that’s just not a smart move. The best way to handle it would simply be to look for better roles – although how much that’s doable in the Hollywood system, I have no idea. It might be that you have to just take what’s offered – even an actress with a name like Heigl’s.

  19. I’m not sure Heigl’s comments about KNOCKED UP killed her career, she was appearing in high-profile, even profitable films for almost half a decade after that. I think she’s had a downturn because she’s generally a bit anonymous, and her films even more so. Personally, what stuck with me more than the (I agree, accurate) KNOCKED UP comments, was when she announced she would opt out of the Emmy race because “she was not given good enough material to work with”. Now THAT’s biting the hand that feeds.

  20. Yeah, I think it’s more than one thing that has sunk Heigl’s career. By the way, STATE OF AFFAIRS has been canceled. I had a friend who worked on a project with her around the time she did this movie and he said she is not very nice. She has every right to not be nice and who knows what was going on in her life to make her not nice at that time, but if you’re not nice often enough, people aren’t going to want to be around you.

  21. 20 minutes? Is that for real? That seems impossible to me.

    I know Andrew Davis, having fallen out with Seagal, tried to claim that part 1 was mostly a Tommy Lee Jones movie because it kept cutting to him. I thought that was silly because it’s just following the DIE HARD formula, which doesn’t stay in McClane’s perspective the whole time either.

  22. Paul, I think that’s how people felt, that she was criticizing a movie they liked that she was in. I don’t think that’s really what she did, though. She just had a small moment of honesty about it not being as fun to play that character. I believe she also said nice things about the movie. But because of the way we focus on one out of context quote in the internet age we act like she came out and did a press conference to announce that she hates KNOCKED UP.

    By the way, I found some quotes that I didn’t use for the article where she talked about Seagal personally auditioning actresses to play the topless woman on the beach. She didn’t really say anything about the quality of the movie itself though.

  23. You’ve got to admire Seagal’s commitment to excellence. Even though he was a big movie star and all he still took the time to make sure the exposed breasts were the right exposed breasts for the scene. It’s that kind of attention to detail that makes UNDER SIEGE 2 so good.

  24. Seagal’s always had a commitment to breasts. UNDER SIEGE 1 almost dethrones TOTAL RECALL, for God’s sake!

  25. It’s funny that we were talking about Katherine Heigl’s comments about KNOCKED UP, because Judd Apatow’s new one TRAINWRECK could almost be him trying to make up for what she was complaining about. Amy Schumer gets to be the Seth Rogen character, the one who likes to drink and smoke weed and resists growing up and settling down.

    (And yes, I thought it was a funny movie.)

  26. The Original Paul

    July 19th, 2015 at 6:17 am

    Well this has been a good excuse to rewatch and compare the two UNDER SIEGE movies. Seagal is basically Seagal, and needs no comparison. So let’s compare the villains.

    Tommy Lee Jones… his performance in UNDER SIEGE has always been an interesting one because I think he gives the character more depth than he needed to. There are moments, when he’s not addressing his men or making some villain speech or something, when he looks down and sighs. It’s as though he’s saying to himself “Man, what the fuck am I doing here?” It’s as though he’s more cynical about his own mission than he’d like to admit.

    Bogosian does not have this. He’s nuts, plain and simple. But in the depths of his craziness, he gets some great moments. Probably my favorite undermentioned villain moment from UNDER SIEGE 2 is when he says to the hostages that “arrangements have been made for you to be picked up at the next stop.” The look that McGill gives him is just beautiful. It kinda gives some justification to the idea that these two are partners, because they genuinely seem to like each other.

  27. That’s another reason I prefer under siege 2 to 1. I kinda feel sorry for Jones in part 1, even though he was trying to nuke a million innocent people. You just can’t help but like Tommy Lee Jones when he’s mega acting and given awesome dialogue. You don’t feel bad for Penn and Dane in the least so their demises are more satisfying.

    Speaking of which- it wasn’t made clear but Dane and Penn were setting most of their own men up, right? There’s no way all of them would have fit in the helicopter, even if Ryback hadn’t killed 20 of them already. And poor Scotty at the front of the train, I guess he had no idea the other train was coming? You can’t really tell from the look on his face what he was thinking.

  28. Vern, have you never reviewed the Geoff Murphy masterpiece that is FREEJACK? How is that even possible? Estevez/ Jagger/ Hopkins/ Faison/ Plummer(‘s crazy daughter)/ & Russo: One Sheen, one Rolling Stone, three Hannibal-franchise killers, and a double-Lethal-Weapon, double-Major-League, double-Thor leading lady? This has “Vern Review” all over it!

  29. Bogosian has so many great line readings, but the glee and matter-of-factness sways in this one makes it one of my favorites:

    “300,000 pages of code. Or 60 minutes of triple-X rubber-and-leather bondage porno. Technology can be used for beauty, or debasement. And until you plug it in, you’ll just never know.”

  30. The Original Paul

    July 20th, 2015 at 8:42 am

    That does remind me of the one thing that really bothered me about US2 though. Why didn’t Bogosian just make copies of the damn CD?!!

    I’m pretty sure CD copying software was a “thing”, even back then. Plus Bogosian is a tech genius. It’s not hard!

  31. I remember seeing this on the big screen 20 years ago, and definitely enjoyed it more than the first… More so for Dane’s character. The perfect clever and very smart idiot.

    I knew next to nothing about Bogosian prior to that, and watched not a great deal of films or tv series with him in it either. Although I do remember one good role he played in The Twilight Zone. As for his Law & Order stuff, he would better suit the role of a lawyer than a police captain.

    @Neal2zod – Did you notice the look Scotty had in his face before the trains collided? If you briefly pause and notice the other mercenary sitting behind him had the genuine look of fear though.

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